Dona Lupita’s Youngest Daughter
Perhaps nine months before the birth of her youngest daughter Dona Lupita enjoyed a more than casual acquaintance with a remarkably fair American male; for the child proved not merely light-skinned but positively white. Even without this detail the birth would have certainly raised eyebrows: it was generally believed that Dona Lupita had moved several degrees beyond the age of forty and past an ability to procreate. Besides, no signs of a pregnancy were detectable in the formidable businesswoman prior to the morning that she locked the front door of her store and retreated into a room at its rear to issue a new soul into the world---despite the fact that her slim figure, unlike those of sloppier senoras, didn’t lend itself easily to concealing a prenatal condition.
The unattended delivery was apparently accomplished with Dona Lupita’s typical efficiency. Her store re-opened less than an hour after it had closed. She seemed as poised as usual to the six ladies, led inevitably by Carmela Cervantes, who were drawn toward the kind of sustained high-pitched crying, startling and monotonous at once, which often encourages dogs to accompany it with howls. Before there could be time for the newborn to be displayed and for its color to be questioned, Dona Lupita explained to the sextet of frankly curious customers that on the maternal side of her family the final child of a generation would sporadically reveal the presence of the chromosome that is responsible for producing a fair complexion.
The brand new mother stepped to the back of her store then returned with a cardboard box that had originally been filled with forty-watt bulbs. The brief glimpse of its current contents afforded to the ladies on hand would remind them later of Dona Lupita’s twisted tendency to tantalize shoppers with a striking piece of merchandise in her store window. When the item had vanished from behind the glass the next day she would flatly deny that it ever existed except in the fanciful minds of dreamers who couldn’t have afforded it anyway.
Only a lapse induced by a brief immersion into the realm of blood and pain might explain why a character of Dona Lupita’s notorious reserve would acknowledge that she had given birth at all. As quickly as the cardboard box vanished she had recovered her redoubtable front. Her blood-stained fingers successfully sold several articles which had long resisted purchase—an automatic cherry pitter to a customer allergic to a fruit so rare in the vicinity as to be non-existent meriting special mention.
“Well, she was very white,” seemed all that the six witnesses to the fleeting exhibition of Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter could say afterward, as if a profound absence of color had manifested a corresponding lack of eyes, nose and mouth. So brief was this single presentation of infant to public that even gifted Gypsy eyes might not have been equipped to divine a resemblance between her features and those of parents or of more distant relations. Certainly Dona Lupita and her rarely seen husband were both so dark that Indian blood might not have been alien to their veins--even while Dona Lupita claimed to possess in the iron chest where vital papers pertaining to her store stayed locked a legal document that delineated her family’s undetoured path of descent from a minor prince of Aragon; a blue-eyed, golden-haired Zaragozan, to be precise. Dona Lupita’s three older daughters--Carmen, Consuelo, Conchita—were dull-complexioned adolescents of thirteen, fourteen and sixteen years respectively; each one stolid in build, big of foot, and with a sour expression to boot, and none of them betraying the slightest hint of any variety of princess, be it Spanish or otherwise.
No one could remember the visit of a fair-headed stranger to the area nine months earlier or at any other recent point in local history. Always scarce, foreigners seemed of late to have become a species as endangered as the panda here, and the human population of the world beyond the town might as well have grown quite extinct. That this impression could have been disproved by a forty-mile trip across the hills to the teeming streets of the capital city that lay on their further side didn’t make it less keenly felt. In the end such speculation seemed beside the point: not even a fabulist as gifted as Esmerelda Lopez could imagine Dona Lupita slipping down to the beach for an illicit encounter with some gringo however blue his eyes or blond his hair; or even, when all was said and done, for sparing a second from business concerns to fold herself within her shadowy husband’s arms.
As white as snow or milk, as paper or a ghost, as Old Chonita’s house or any star: the town’s newest inhabitant became immediately recognized as bearing the properties of an original creation, perhaps one with some significance. In the excitement of the moment everyone seemed to forget that the murky cave of their communal memory had long been haunted to sorrowful effect by several phantoms which shared the newborn’s pallor. While perhaps purely accidental, a freak of nature on the same level as the birth of a two-headed calf, the special appearance of Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter might just as likely have foreshadowed serious change in the established order: a portent of what would come. Of course the town felt pitifully anxious to spot omens of evolution within the most trivial events and the most dubious tricks of chance so great was its longing for the swamp of sameness in which it drowned to dry all at once into exotically solid ground. Hope that Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter might herald an era of pale and improved residents evaporated on the same evening of her arrival however when three women on the next block delivered what were, as Carmela Cervantes took pains to point out, the three darkest babies to be recorded in the local history book.
After its brief presentation to the public upon her birth the youngest daughter of Dona Lupita stayed hidden in the dim rooms at the back of her mother’s store where she was presumably cared for by the trio of older sisters who like her would disappear from sight for the next six and one half years. Not so much as a ritual introduction of infant to God by means of baptism occurred to the considerable consternation of Jesus Salvador de Asuncion; upon this latest rebuff of his sincere efforts to save souls, the priest flounced in his pink and purple robes to the Cine Tropicana where Elizabeth Taylor currently attempted to seduce a man of the cloth, in the form of Richard Burton, in The Sandpiper each night. For all anyone knew the white wonder would never be rewarded with a Christian name though surely the most unimaginative of mothers might have stumbled upon an appellation as apt as Blanca.
As a consequence of the lack of opportunities for empirical observation, it wasn’t possible either to verify or to challenge the stories concerning the child’s coloring which grew to flower more and more freely as time passed, and soon her whiteness achieved a legendary status. It became common for closed eyes to behold a shape of light illuminating the darkness. What soon expanded to resemble an unfettered landscape of snow—unmarked by footprints, unsullied by exploration, virginal and blank—must really, the town yearned to believe, be the diffused gleam cast by a single glittering girl.
During this post-partum period Dona Lupita invested some of her sizeable savings into the construction of a second storey upon the building that contained her store and home. The main feature of this addition would apparently be a glassed-in balcony running along the side of the structure that faced upon the plaza.
“There goes our money,” bitterly remarked townspeople upon viewing the extremely slow progress of an architectural project for which no expense seemed being spared. Without a scruple for the cost, Dona Lupita would command workmen to tear down what they had done so far and begin anew from scratch time and time again either because her original vision was unclear or because it grew increasingly more grandiose. As a result the addition took nearly seven years to complete, and it threatened to become, like the aborted bingo hall, bowling alley and covered bandstand, the latest in a fairly long series of unfulfilled local dreams. Each month of construction encouraged the townspeople to anticipate an edifice of greater splendor until they came to imagine something that would surpass the Taj Mahal in both size and glamour, and that would tower as a magnificent monument to their poverty.
For everyone here lay deeply in debt to Dona Lupita—some, it was rumored, owed her millions—and the populace shared a dread of the day that she would call in her loans then seize furniture, houses and property when they couldn’t be repaid: that this had yet to happen served to make reckoning more imminent and apocalyptic. Nearly every household had no choice but to continue on a downward path toward ruin through no fault of their own but due to a long-reigning economic depression that seemed, unfortunately, to have manufactured a comparable spiritual slump in the area, as Jesus Salvador de Asuncion would have been more than happy to confess between nibbles of salty, greasy palomitas in his permanent front row seat inside the movie house. “On account, please,” meekly murmured a housewife upon finding herself once or twice a week in need of this or that essential item from Dona Lupita’s store but lacking the hard cash necessary to acquire it. The businesswoman would reach for a large key that hung from a ribbon of faded yellow silk around her neck; opening the dreaded iron chest, she removed a thick black ledger within whose pages the name of every family in town appeared above a long column of figures. A debtor would attempt to peer over Dona Lupita’s shoulder to gain a glimpse of how much he owed; obligations seemed to be entered by means of some sort of a code however, and no one was able to know exactly how deeply they might be beholden. As she added another number to a balance Dona Lupita wore the kind of inscrutable expression that no matter the circumstances rarely inspires the easing of a worried mind.
Really, could Dona Lupita’s present eminence have been envisioned by the most feverish imagination in this place renowned for undisciplined fantasy? Not even Esmerelda Lopez was capable of connecting the dizzying contemporary heights of the successful woman to her lowly beginnings in a grass hut with dirt floors at the edge of town, and it was disremembered that technically, at least, she had ties to one of the most infamously insolvent local clans; certainly blood connections, including parents and siblings, wouldn’t have dared to remind their lucky relative of a kinship less presume upon it. Dona Lupita’s assertion that she had been born into a very well-to-do Guadalajara family was never once contested.
She had preferred vaguely-colored plain shifts to cheap frills and flounces as a child; after her advantageous marriage to the heir to one of the town’s several shabby general stores she chose to present a neatly dressed figure clad in trim suits made of long-lasting wrinkle-free fabrics of either a dull grey or a dull brown, and she invariably imprisoned her mouse-colored hair within a tight bun. Dona Lupita’s characteristic gesture in the course of driving a hard bargain with a weak wholesaler or while listening stonily to some poor fellow’s plea for a life-saving loan was to search with the long, thin and unadorned digits of her left hand for the sharp pins that kept her coiffure perfectly in place. It would be difficult to know whether the look of satisfaction to cross the businesswoman’s face upon her achieving another advantageous financial transaction resulted from that victory or from the taste of the blood that she liked to suck from a pricked finger.
Dona Lupita had driven other local stores from existence one at a time by amassing sufficient capital to allow her to undercut their prices. While Carmela Cervantes stated without equivocation that the shadowy husband and three dull daughters of the ambitious entrepreneur had gone hungry to enable the accumulation of that fund, little account was paid to what must surely have been but one more wag of a notorious gossip’s tongue. Carelessly managed, always teetering on a tightrope between profit and loss, each enterprise that struggled to compete with Dona Lupita’s fell by the wayside one by one without a whimper. She increased the size and scope of her retail enterprise with each share of the market that she captured until it came to stock groceries, medicines and clothing as well as a range of more frivolous items. When her monopoly over the local economy grew to be one hundred per cent secure Dona Lupita was free to charge astronomical prices for the shoddiest of merchandise. She realized that her fellow citizens could hardly venture forty miles to the capital city, which provided the nearest shopping alternative, every time they found themselves in need of a liter of milk or a dozen aspirin.
Compounding the dominance of Dona Lupita was the fact that she had been commissioned by the state power company to take payment for every resident’s electricity bill because her business was singularly possessed by the stability required to properly manage such accounts. For rendering this service Dona Lupita received free light—a compensation that induced nightly dreams of bulbs blazing from dusk until dawn among this dark-fearing population. On too many occasions one family or another would find itself suddenly without power after a careless remark had been dropped to Dona Lupita or when an innocent child happened to strike her the wrong way. The darkened household would scheme to re-enter the woman’s good graces by means of a basket of avocados left at her door each morning or by offering to sweep her premises for one month without charge. Perhaps accepting them as her due, Dona Lupita barely deigned to notice such concessions; in any case they rarely led to a speedy restoration of failed light. The unfortunate Ramirez family suffered darkness for six long months because neighbors felt reluctant to share their working wattage with them out of fear of appearing to challenge Dona Lupita’s authority. By the time electricity was finally allowed to illuminate the house in question again its entire occupants, including a tot of just three, had become hopelessly enslaved to a powerful concoction of tequila and gasoline which they had imbibed each night to alleviate an unbearable blackness.
Further, as the town had been deemed unworthy of a post office—never mind a bank, a library or a jail—all mail meant for its citizens was held at Dona Lupita’s store. “No, there’s nothing for you today,” poor Isabella Moreno would be informed when visible behind the counter waited an envelope that contained desperately needed dollars from her son in Modesto, California. One and all accepted that Dona Lupita intercepted then burned each love letter contained by the postal sack that was tossed toward her door from the battered blue bus that rattled through the town three days a week; she also seemed hostile to get-well cards, birthday greetings and Christmas wishes. Not bothering with the stratagem of steam, she ripped open any envelope to attract her notice. To pass idle moments at her counter she would read without apparent interest or enjoyment the sensitive contents of correspondence that were intended for more sympathetic eyes. Dona Lupita became privy in this way to all sorts of secrets which might originally have been trivial but which assumed an otherworldly importance from their rough passage from darkness into light. In the end there could be no way of knowing whether Dona Lupita acted in regard to either electrical or postal disturbances out of whim, or from a motive more occult.
Not a few naïve souls in town cherished hope that with the arrival of her youngest daughter Dona Lupita’s business philosophy might mellow. Optimism vanished when the store’s already outrageous prices became immediately doubled. A throat to have muttered a mantra of profit and loss for many years couldn’t all at once begin crooning lullabies instead, it seemed. True to habit, Dona Lupita remained behind her counter all morning and all evening—posture erect, demeanor cool, gaze unflinching—and when a baby cried from the closed rooms to her rear she blinked no more than she would at, say, the plaintive squealing of Francesca Fernanda Fidelia, Petra Delgado’s prized and pampered pig. Some whispered that with breasts as dry as tear ducts Dona Lupita had hired an indigent slattern from the capital city’s slum as wet nurse for her youngest daughter and that the greedy lips of the more fortunate infant proceeded to suck milk rightfully belonging to one who was left to starve to death in consequence.
Apparently the businesswoman also felt incapacitated or disinclined to enjoy maternal moments during siesta, for during those hours she could be seen directing the large crew of men who worked without rest upon the upper storey of her house. Striding in sensible shoes across precarious beams and forms, brown or grey skirt lifting demurely in an afternoon breeze, she suckled drops of blood induced upon the surface of her left hand’s fingers by repeated pricks of the pins concealed among her hair. A tendency to close her eyes in order to enjoy this private experience with an added intensity sometimes seemed to impair Dona Lupita’s balance to the point where she would be left to sway like a cantina drunkard upon the vulnerable perch that she occupied on high.
The store became locked by means of a forbidding number of bolts and chains and keys every night at nine o’clock; free electricity or no, it would descend once again into a darkness shared by the adjacent living quarters that Dona Lupita and her family occupied. To promenaders in the plaza the unfinished upper part of the building resembled the skeleton of some immense beast extinct for eons and now being raised contrary to natural law from dank fetid swamp into clear air, sweet breeze, starlight. This concept would prompt ears to snap to attention at a wailing that carried from within an unlit, incomplete structure that might turn out to be anything at all; fighting the sense that the unhappy sound did not resemble any to have been produced by human lungs before, listeners would summon then nurture their ingrained optimism until it found the strength to insist that Dona Lupita was a mother, a wife, a child of God, say what you will, and within her inflexible frame must be housed a heart that one day would crack open like the toughest shell to reveal its tender fruit.
That she seemed unaffected in an emotional sense by the newest addition to her family did not mean that Dona Lupita failed to value it sufficiently. Indeed her attitude suggested that here was a precious jewel to be kept safe inside a dark vault whose sole key belonged to her. Dona Lupita made it crystalline clear from the beginning that inquiries into the appearance, character or health of her youngest daughter would not be tolerated; whether the infant were living or dead could be no one’s business but her own.
An existence shrouded in secrecy became further cloaked by stories that grew increasingly fantastical leap by bound, month by year. It went declared as plain fact that Dona Lupita would not think twice about sending her husband in their late-model Pontiac to fetch the capital city’s most illustrious physician regardless of the hour whenever a minor ailment happened to strike the child. The infant was clad exclusively within silk or satin, or wore similarly pure white lace, swore many mythologists. Once weaned she went on to be raised upon a strict diet of candy and Coca Cola: a sip of plain water or a nibble of corn tortilla would never be allowed to pass her fussy lips. There grew lots of legends concerning the expensive toys that towered in mountains around the little girl to be destroyed in a back-yard fire after being smudged by her white fingertips once. A never-played grand piano was purchased for her at age three, a diamond ring of twenty carats at four, a real mink coat when five. More than an ordinary family’s annual income was wasted on the quantities of ice imported daily by Dona Lupita from the capital city to be doomed to melt quickly from its solid state upon being placed before a full-sized electric fan that spared her youngest daughter from suffering the discomfort of heat and that saved this special being from any related decomposing effects. The three dull-skinned sisters of the pure white child were employed around the clock to wash and iron her virginally white clothes, decided Carmela Cervantes; besides changing these snowy garments every fifteen minutes on the dot they had been assigned to brush her white hair even while she slept and to maintain in a perfect state the manicure of both alabaster hands and the pedicure of each alabaster foot. One of the darkest rumors concerning Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter took the shape of a purported purchase from a capital city prostitute of a little chit whose lifelong career would be to serve as slave to the more fortunate child; that is, obey her every wish however exacting or unnatural or cruel it might prove. As years went by it came to be believed that the continued failure of Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter to appear in public owed to the necessity of safeguarding her pure white complexion. “She will never feel a single harsh ray of sunlight on her skin,” the mother in question was claimed to have vowed in a moment of revelation as rare as that with which the atom splits.
. . .
It may be said that legends can possess distinct levels just as there exist various strata of earth and atmosphere that darken according to the distance from which they happened to lie above or below the planet’s surface. Who knows what forms of life slither one thousand miles beneath our feet or float a similar distance overhead? Might human imagination lack a language necessary to translate such creatures out of darkness and into ordinary daylight? Shall one or another of them appear among us once every million years by chance or by design? These became questions posed by a slim fraction of the townspeople who had never been satisfied with the popular fable of the lonely princess in the lofty tower or by the props that variously surround her and her ilk—the frog prince and the pea, the wicked stepmother and the glass slipper—nor were local meta-physicists content to view this sort of folklore as a psychological projection of id or of ego, or of the deeper and richer veins that run through every mind’s mine. Herself the mother of a favorite town tale, this one involving twin daughters named Linda and Lupe, Esmerelda Lopez had recently been the originator of a scientific craze that threatened to boil the romance out of history with Bunsen burners, explode sentimental memories by shaking them in test tubes, and prove with pendulums that all experiences of love are the manifestation of one or another basic law of chemistry or physics. Individuals encouraged by the scientific attitude instilled into the air by Senora Lopez began to seek to explain the phenomenon of Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter according to the principles of biology. There flourished a good deal of talk about genetic matters for one week; sounding to the uninitiated like a sinister code, acronyms such as DNA and RNA became dropped left, right and center. Before any supposition could be proven through rigorous laboratory trial, premature speculation upon it seemed to act as a kind of ultraviolet ray that mushroomed into existence mutant flowers of alarming size, impossible brilliance, unearthly aroma. It became intimated that Dona Lupita’s dim rooms served as a prison for a desperately misplaced member of a rare species, halfway between the monkey and the eel, whose thin white wrists were chained by heavy irons; properly residing in the deepest heart of darkest Africa, this exotic exemplar thrived upon a diet of commonplace arachnids (requiring a minimum of ten kilos of them daily), but it could also enjoy tarantulas and black widows as special delicacies, and was sufficiently adventurous enough in the gastronomical sense to savor a scorpion for dessert sometimes.
These constituted the bare bones of one of the less outlandish stories concerning Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter: only a sacrifice of the pale being to the public’s avid eye could have produced a realistic if perhaps disappointing understanding of her nature in the end.
Did a foreshadowing of things to come occur when after almost seven years of unstinting labor the upper storey of Dona Lupita’s residence became finally finished to betray all of the Spanish-castle expectations cherished for it by the town? Though impressively solid and obviously the work of true craftsmanship it resembled less the realized vision of some spendthrift Oriental prince than of a shrewd woman who demands nuts and bolts, preferably long-lasting ones, in return for her pesos. The sole fanciful feature of the structure proved to be a glassed-in balcony overlooking the plaza; its only hints of extravagance consisted of the gilt chairs, real orchids and rare velvet tapestries which had been ordered from the capital city to decorate the enclosed space. Those facets could barely be envisioned from the ground however, and any effect of opulence above was diminished by the first unexotic sighting of Dona Lupita’s three older daughters in seven years. In matching grey overalls that resembled prison garb and that did nothing to flatter their figures but left them even less alluring than before the trio perched atop tall ladders to polish the glass encasing the balcony in what would become a thrice-weekly effort to keep it crystal clear.
On the morning after the last hammer hit the upper storey of her building Dona Lupita was absent from the store that occupied its ground floor. “Is she ill?” inquired shoppers not without hope of the three older girls who had opened up that day. In their grey overalls Carmen, Consuelo and Conchita sat each at a typewriter behind the counter; between serving customers they struck laboriously at the keys of their machines. A cacophony of flat clacks and bright pings competed with Carmela Cervantes’ attempt to solicit morsels of information about the missing mother.
Fearing that no offers of marriage would be made to them except for mercenary reasons, believing that sooner or later they must earn their daily bread, Dona Lupita had likely decided to prepare her trio of older daughters for a secretarial career. “They’ll be sent to work in city offices as soon as they can type fifty perfect words a minute,” Carmela Cervantes declared in a convinced tone that for once had the power to sway her neighbors. The dull skin of the three sisters appeared to have darkened further from a long sentence served beyond reach of sunlight; their conversation, never brilliant, now seemed reduced to occasional grunts muttered at moments when they became confronted by the demands of especially challenging dactylic dexterities.
When the morning sun had voyaged part way across the sky and Dona Lupita’s balcony had retreated into shadow, mother and youngest daughter materialized upon it. A crowd gathered next to Manuel Olvidado’s cantina in the street below and peered up into the dimness that lay beyond the glass above. While Dona Lupita became rendered nearly invisible by the gloom, her youngest daughter gleamed upon it like a pool of floating light.
Could the child’s complexion and hair have further paled in the course of the past seven years contrary to the tendency of fairness to darken during this early period of life? Was she wearing her real mink and her diamond ring of twenty carats? How tall and how graceful had she grown, and what variety of haunted expression played upon her dead-white face, and did her eyes deign to turn bewitchingly toward the throng that gazed from below? Was Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter begging for rescue from a brilliant isolation aloft, or had she acceded to the sad separation that exists between light and dark, day and night, up and down?
Instinctively the town thirsted to be rewarded by a romantic tableau, some seductive sight or other; and at its first gulp of vision certain distasteful details concerning Dona Lupita as well as similarly unsavory stories of a mutant or monstrous daughter became erased from civic memory with the swipe of one hand, for the words to describe the apparition presently on high could equally have defined the qualities of a star: both entities lay phosphorescently above to emit a dazzling light; each existed for no reason than to receive and to fulfill wishes of an earthbound species below.
Townspeople realized within the space of one hour the irrelevance of their musing upon the expression worn by Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter, about the style and color of her dress, or if she were human. As afternoon passed and shadows lengthened, the balcony sank more deeply into obscurity until from earth it could not be judged beyond a reasonable doubt whether or not Dona Lupita remained with her daughter above—strolling back and forth behind the glass, reclining in a stiff pose of relaxation upon one of the gilt chairs, sniffing an orchid less with the aesthete’s appreciation of aroma than with a consumer’s desire to know what value she has gotten for her money; but proof of her youngest daughter’s presence only grew more luminous. Did just thirty-three steps separate her point of elevation from the level from which she was being watched? At evening’s fall the little girl may have switched on a record player to swell the balcony with music that was unable to penetrate its encasing glass; for on the tips of white toes and with white arms curved above her white head Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter embarked upon a solo dance above. Watching her pirouetting palely, the audience below moaned to see its oldest memory taking form: here shone the original image that appears prior to birth, during life and after death; nearby but beyond reach a white being glistens, a white being gleams. In the days when stones had yet to transform into grains of sand, please remember, a white horse would pose upon every point of the horizon; and recall too that while each spring unfolded into a fresher and happier season a pair of Lopez twins (or was it only one girl doubled by desire?) had once traced white Ferris wheel circles through a sweet April sky; and realize as well how like any cruel lover all of those images of light had each abandoned the town without explanation to wound it at its heart and to leave a darker, more despairing place behind. As Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter danced above the realization by her audience that there could be no escape from her mute promise of love caused it to exhale a sigh that traveled deep toward the bottom of the darkest well and lifted high into atmosphere spreading spread cold and thin and without light.
Even after their heads swam with a longing for sleep, bedazzled spectators of the apparition on high could not abandon her remote presence. They fell one by one into an unconscious condition upon the plaza to litter its flagstone surface into the collective scene of an apparent aftermath of recent massacre or plague; and from this evening the town became enslaved by its love for Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter though she would remain unknown.
It’s not for me to say what variety of transformations might have been wrought by time upon this community’s adoration of Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter, or whether such emotion would eventually have paled like any earthly love until it evoked no more passion than the memory of a single perfect gardenia petal glistening with dew at dawn in Old Chonita’s garden twenty years ago. But now, after love has been dethroned, it seems possible to recognize that during the reign being considered here the town enjoyed a measure of peace dissimilar to any known by it before and perhaps unlike any to be experienced in the future: though profound and intense and all- consuming, an apparently unreciprocated love for the youngest daughter of Dona Lupita did not inspire madness or death, drunkenness or ruin. Maybe people in this place had finally learned to accept the limitations inherent in longing, and had achieved the ability to live with an object of desire shining aloofly out of reach.
Wandering through empty, silent noon streets, a stranger as fair-haired as myself would have received an impression of dullness and dust and dreariness from whose spell sleepers tend to wait for an awakening kiss—when a seemingly somnolent town was in fact experiencing the degree of complete contentment that permits transcendence of a gnawing appetite for an outer world through which an infinite number of idealized images might or might not wander.
Eyes did not drool with hunger from within windows for my unfamiliar figure to materialize out of flat sunlight with the news that I had brought a cure for thwarted desire or an effective antidote against loss or the sure remedy for heartache. Young girls were not driven to pace upon a foaming moonlit shore in anticipation of some pirate ship’s plundering approach; adventurous youths failed to climb into the western slopes in search of a cinematic country called California concealed within the clouds that wreath those peaks.
This present era would be remembered as one when children attended school with regularity, when houses were kept neat and clean, when every sisal field remained well-tended. The slow, heavy step and drooping eyes of all citizens including youngest infants and their oldest relatives seemed suggestive of a spiritual as well as sexual satiation although even the most passionate individuals did not lie in pairs during this time.
Jesus Salvador de Asuncion felt a daily disappointment when his pews now proved to be more thoroughly eschewed than ever by a congregation that would hardly flock to fill them at the best of times. A dearth of paying customers drove Manuel Olvidado to begin consuming one bottle after another inside his empty cantina; Gabriella Fernandez and Juanita Martinez had little alternative except to enjoy an unscheduled vacation when drunks ceased stumbling one after the other up the steep stairs that led to the conveniently located pair of workrooms where the two women labored to satisfy the demands exacted by commercial love. Within the courtyard that housed the Cine Tropicana Elizabeth Taylor became reduced night after night to emoting to an audience that was currently comprised of just the husband-and-wife proprietors of the place; when not even the star’s brilliant performance in Elephant Walk managed to draw its standard SRO crowd, Rosa and Juan were each left with a shaken faith as well as with dropped jaws; and for the first time in twenty-five years they gave serious consideration to the question of whether there could be any point in holding their Annual Elizabeth Taylor Look-Alike Contest which during that lengthy period had always served as the high point of the town’s social, civic and religious calendar.
Perhaps that envoy from the outside world, whatever his identity (permit me to be coy for once), would wonder if the price of satisfaction might be a too expensive forsaking of dreams—or, rather, of the heights to which aspiration can drive us to achieve. When all needs are nourished what becomes of the appetite that urges men to defy gravity and dare an ascendant flight above their starved hearts? “How calm, what order, such sobriety,” the fair-headed stranger could have thought before departing hastily in search of some place such as Mazatlan where folly might still rage. Blind to every sight save for a reach of white light extending through evening air, insensible except for that beam’s balm, shivering beneath its caress of their dark skin, the residents of this far removed town would have been unable to notice either the arrival or the departure of their pale-complexioned visitor.
The calmness of those days when heat droned and while houses hummed with the quietest activity came from confidence that at eight o’clock precisely an embodiment of ideal love would emerge from Dona Lupita’s inner rooms to grace her balcony. All ordinary aspects of daily life were dealt with thoroughly if mechanically as steps that needed to be taken one by one in order to bring about this moment of fulfillment. Worshippers did not wonder how Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter occupied herself during the hours preceding and following each evening appearance that she made; possessed by the selfishness of all lovers, they felt scant interest in the circumstances to be endured by the source of their rewarded emotion, and cared only that the miracle conjured by it might continue.
While the balcony above the plaza lay bare during morning and afternoon no one passing on a mundane errand below would have dreamed of glancing up toward it. From the start there existed an unarticulated and unquestioned acceptance that this love affair possessed the finite proportions of any geometric shape, and occupied a specific and limited space of time during which all of its rewards could be extracted without leaving leftover longing to knock on the door at inconvenient moments. As the church bell shaped eight imperfect circles of sound, townspeople would file through dimming streets and settle in alphabetical order upon folding chairs which had been removed from the patio of the Cine Tropicana where they served no useful purpose now, and which were arranged in neat rows below Dona Lupita’s balcony to allow the pleasures of love to be enjoyed in comfort. Like eager students of Eugenio Ortega or the true fans of motion pictures, this audience did not require a stimulus of popcorn, chiclets or tacos to augment the experience of witnessing what unfolded before their eyes but would receive sufficient reward from the spectacle itself. Now and then could be heard an isolated sigh or some barely audible moan: no other human noise ever disturbed the stillness of these hours, and it may have been just a psycho-sympathetic deafness that made it seem as though crickets and owls and wild dogs fell mute too.
Was Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter aware of the attention that she received from below? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. Indication of the former possibility could be found in the conviction held by spectators that their love was being reciprocated fully; the strength of this belief grew furthered by a sense that Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter had the veteran performer’s consciousness of an audience. Night after night the girl in white passed through a fixed program upon her balcony in the same way that actors will repeat a drama within the proscenium of a stage: in the end, all true lovers are artists who balance the demands of creative risk and technical control with an aim of summing an ever-more intense response from those in attendance; who finally resort to extremes of creative measures in the hope of delaying the inevitable moment when the many eyes fixed upon them grow neglectful, and who dread the departure of a once-enthralled throng that will leave the theatre empty and dark.
Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter would flit for an hour upon the balcony to an accompaniment that seemed to her audience to be composed from strains of silence. With the purpose perhaps of demonstrating the principle of stillness she occasionally froze for a timeless span during which her devotees also eschewed movement to enjoy the sensation of having escaped themselves from the rough jerk of passing minutes and from the clock’s cruel bounding, and of having encountered the delight of pleasure unlimited by the calendar. Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter sometimes folded herself within a bolt of thick black cloth that disappeared her entirely from sight. Just as everyone grew to understand in its sharpest form the interdependent nature of presence and absence, she would unfurl her prop with an exquisite sense of timing to shine seemingly twice as brightly as before.
When the townspeople finally found themselves lulled into a peacefulness of such profundity that it resembled death they would realize that the point of light at which they gazed was in fact a star shining high above Dona Lupita’s rooftop, and that the balcony loomed dark and bare. Rather than suffer a sense of abandonment or of loss, they felt that the object of their love had ascended to a more rarified level, and had imparted to their earthbound hearts some of the divinity possessed by astral bodies; and as the church bell struck its midnight cue these yawning amorists would drift homeward to enjoy an experience of sleep which proved unmolested by nightmares or haunted by dreams unfolding beneath a scattering of stars that paled slowly into the promise of another dawn.
Dona Lupita remained unseen during all these months of love-filled nights; yet the curiosity that had always been inspired by the woman before seemed quite quenched in her absence now, and little speculation spread in regard to a sudden demise caused by a haemorage of blood induced by one too many pricks of a hairpin, or to an equally deathly entrance into The Sacred Order of The Sisters of Pure Piety. Nor did a rumor arise about an extended Acapulco jaunt complete with muscular cabana boys and fruit drinks decorated by miniature paper umbrellas and dusk to dawn mamboing in the discoteques that line the Playa Diamante. Failing to gain the least bit of traction was a sensational report by Carmela Cervantes: upon deciding that the operation of her store could be left safely in the dull hands of her three older daughters, the local powerhouse had felt freed to take up the ambitious challenge of assuming management of the notoriously popular and ineptly run whorehouse located in nearby El Llano.
Very late at night, it was true, the sight of two dark eyes burning upon Dona Lupita’s balcony could easily have been observed were all potential witnesses not enjoying a sleep of post-coital soundness at that hour. And perhaps just beyond the blinding spotlight of love that played out each evening upon this raised stage a dark force presently robbed of the energy required to impose itself upon vision waited patiently for a shift of power or for an altered flow of electrical current which might permit her to blaze once more.
Whatever the nature of Dona Lupita’s unseen activities, her store operated smoothly enough under the management of her three older daughters who slowly increased their typing speed without showing signs of learning to quicken in conversational skill. Even while engaged upon prosaic tasks the townspeople spoke exclusively in the language of love these days, and it seemed the typewriting girls failed to grow familiar with the idiom. Anyone not immersed fully within the scented bath of romance would likely have been baffled to respond to recently adopted terms of speech whereby many nouns, verbs and adjectives became replaced by one and the same word, love (one spoke of buying a kilo of love, of loving the kitchen floor, of rain falling lovingly, and so forth), although amongst themselves the inamoratos seemed to experience little linguistic confusion. Isolated by a deficiency with the new dialect Carmen, Consuelo and Conchita remained mostly ensconced inside the store during each evening session of al fresco passion in order to soak tender fingertips in a concoction made from fresh-squeezed lemons and pig lard before bandaging the digits for the night. Only rarely did the trio feel sufficiently stirred by their mother’s sharp business spirit to venture into the street and attempt to sell potentially attractive items to the audience below the balcony; namely, cushions to soften the hard surface of chairs upon which these lovers swooned, umbrellas to shelter entranced heads during brief showers of rain, toy binoculars to aid eyes that strained always to see a little more. The three girls appeared quite oblivious to the all-consuming affair existing between their youngest sister and the townspeople, and it is difficult to believe that at midnight they lay dark heads upon lonely pillows to dream about the twist of fate by which a sibling rather than they had been selected to shine.
Feel free to make of it what you will, but there is this: sudden, unexplained failures of power did not afflict unlucky households at present, and each letter sent from California now reached its intended recipient in an unopened state. Some measure of the calm enjoyed by the town during this time may have been due to such cessation of postal and electrical disturbance.
One longs to fantasize that barring the most brutal coup or ruthless purge the ruling regime of love might never have been deposed in this place. It is equally tempting to dream that eyes would not slowly have become less blinded by the light of Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter and more capable of seeing past her razzle-dazzle to the sight perhaps of an anemic listless girl wearing a slack or sulky expression upon her utterly unremarkable face. Possibly, we might muse amid moonlight filtering through the leaves of the amapa tree that rises yesterday, today and tomorrow from the center of the plaza, the child in question wouldn’t have tired of shining always as the object of love and never as its subject upon her lonely balcony. To be as realistic as is demanded by the fashions of these times, it must however be considered that sooner or later the youngest daughter of Dona Lupita would have given into the temptation to conceal her phosphorescence behind a black veil and within one of her mother’s dark fringed shawls. Slipping thirty-three steps to the street below, the incognito arrival settles discreetly among the audience of her adorers upon the lone Cine Tropicana seat to have remained unoccupied beneath the balcony each evening. A universal belief that this chair located amid the “L’s has been reserved for Linda Lopez becomes dismissed with singular unanimity by one glance at a dark figure who couldn’t by any stretch of imagination be the embodiment of a sixteen-year-old girl whose perfect beauty and pure whiteness form inextricable elements of the legend that surrounds her famous disappearance from the town some fifty years ago. Black-dotted lace obscures the upward raising of the translucent eyes of Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter as with a pounding pulse she anticipates the appearance of a light so bright as to render her hidden brilliance as dull as that possessed by the dark-skinned company which in ignorance surrounds her.
And on one of those erotic April evenings that lure many of our daughters into the dangerous arms of desire mightn’t Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter have been seduced into discovering the potential offered by a ten-peso tin of shoe polish and with blackened skin have begun to orbit the square in search of a boy whose flesh would darkly tremble beneath her darkened lips? Or her light dims of its own unexplained accord: invisible in obscurity, solitary and unshining, she is left to languish in a state of isolation upon a gilded balcony for the remainder of a tediously long life; unprepared for this unsung fate, numb with nostalgia for all of the eyes once trained with adoration upon her from below and now turned every one of them toward the starlight thrown anew by Elizabeth Taylor inside the Cine Tropicana or by the more expansive sparkle cast through the higher heavens. Night after weary night she awaits the prince with blue eyes and blond hair who is empowered by love to spy a shimmering being camouflaged beneath drabness; but before he has the chance to gallop to the rescue on his pure white horse, Dona Lupita will cast a cold eye upon what appears to be no more than one more dull-complexioned daughter and set her to type for one thousand days and one thousand nights upon white paper whose blankness mocks a pair of eyes as browned as sautéed sugar. When she can manage a fifty pristine words per minute this fourth disappointing daughter is destined to be sent to earn her living amid electric lights that weaken the power generated by stars shining above the capital city. Like her ordinary neighbors she dreams about a white horse that if compelled by sufficient faith will lead her to where darkness does not loom; or she fantacizes about a twinned girl in white who revolves through a permanently April sky spreading above a carnival crowd in a suggestion that love is bound to orbit with the same never-ending persistence possessed by the planet. When her dark skin has grown as inevitably wrinkled and creased as last year’s calendar she shuts her eyes and drifts into an eternal obscurity never to be woken again by thirst or hunger or light, or by the power of love.
But there is no denying that history denies dreams as it unfolds. There can be no ignoring how destinies twist and turn and slip from fingers that desire to mould from them monuments to all our foolish hopes that the light of love need not ever extinguish. Yes, the time has come for tired truth to slouch a form as thin as mine through these several dusty streets and to dryly remind wishful historians to stick to the hard bones of its skeleton, to refer only to facts as fixed as the features of its granite face. What is most unbearable in retrospect, always, is the suddenness of endings: we can secretly accept that a romance must conclude one day even while never admitting this tough knowledge aloud; but none of us are equipped to tolerate the shot-gun slam of the door behind our departing lover’s back or an abrupt goodbye bleeding into silence after just six skipped heartbeats. If love could withdraw with infinite slowness and imperceptible motion, perhaps it might leave behind a less sharp absence—the void dulled by familiarity before its ache has time to turn actual. If history is a human science, then surely it might be practiced with compassion: breaking yesterday’s bad news gently, and smoothing the hurt of the past as though it were the linen of the once-shared bed that he left rumpled in his haste to leave: for history is our memory made ordered and precise and clear; and no matter how perfectly a past love is recollected it never dies upon a specific date carved into textbooks or upon the minds of students instructed by Eugenio Ortega or by another equally handsome schoolteacher.
Certainly there exists no need for me to insist that one instant love was here, the next instant it had gone. It is similarly unnecessary to record that just a single second after a sky lay wholly blue it splintered into countless shards of white as upon a shattering of the heavens. Speak instead about one morning or another (or still another) when snow began to descend softly, gently, slowly over a town hopelessly in love. Large white flakes drift through a warm as ever cerulean sky in obedience to the law of gravity yet in defiance of that those which rule temperature: blanketing rooftops and covering the dusty streets, and blunting the shape of chairs arranged in alphabetical rows beneath a balcony.
For the first time in its history this part of the world experienced the phenomenon of snow. Even as they wondered whether it could be real, minds recognized this occurrence from Cine Tropicana stories of Alaska and polar bears and igloos. Personalities as disparate as Esmeralda Lopez, Carmela Cervantes and Conchita Carranza gave in without struggle to a primal suspicion that their landscape must be as unique as their square’s amapa tree which would refuse to limit itself to producing red and yellow poppies during a single month of February but through every season would bloom in a flourishing testament that this landscape existed as the natural setting for miracle. They imagined a glass wall curving around the town’s parameters to enclose it beneath a white-feathered sky; on the other side of this transparent boundary stretched an ordinary snowless world whose unblessed inhabitants pressed unremarkable faces against glass to gaze enviously at a white universe within.
All ages abandoned themselves like overexcited children to the enjoyment of an exclusive experience, and throughout the morning voices pitched at the verge of hysteria failed quite to drown out the steady sound of typing persisting from Dona Lupita’s store. Everyone ran outside, opened mouths, extended tongues; in delight they felt a cold soft substance melt its way through their deepest inner spaces. When a snowball fight broke out toward noontime it turned the town into a raucous stranger to the sober love of yesterday; and participants did not contemplate that here and now they might be engaging in an unprecedented encounter with whiteness, or that an elusive element had altered its nature to enter then become an element of lovers who had previously adored it only from afar. Huge pleasure resulted from discovering the banal truth that each white flake is as uniquely shaped as each individual to receive its touch while at the same time the substance can possess a collective capacity to transform every distinct body into a similarly anonymous figure.
As noon passed unnoticed the snow began to fall with greater force and weight; then heavy rocks of hard ice descended through the otherwise blue sky. Notions of nirvana became driven from the townspeople to waken them from an experience of love that moment by moment seemed increasingly to resemble an anesthetic that is doomed to wear off to leave its groggy patient unprotected from the pain which he has suffered in secret all along.
The streets became interred beneath six feet of white by mid-afternoon. Everyone felt chilled through and through; yet the air remained as balmy as during any day in May. Though it would dissolve upon touching dark skin as well as the clothes that camouflaged such darkness, this element failed to melt upon meeting the ground. Floundering through deepening drifts, baffled by confounding circumstances, scientific citizens recited the laws of meteorology; they chanted aloud the properties possessed by solid and liquid, heat and cold, up and down. Quickly there arose the possibility that in the lack of any suggestion of spiritual significance an apparent miracle might be no more than something that has gone very wrong.
The townspeople had retreated indoors by six o’clock to shiver within layers of warm-weather clothing that seemed pitifully insufficient all at once. No one felt in any condition to recall their evening rendezvous with Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter when the church bell failed to toll its usual eight o’clock reminder. They wondered instead what would happen if the snow refused to stop. “Should things continue at this rate we’ll all be buried alive by dawn,” declared Esmerelda Lopez finally speaking her mind after twenty-five years of uncharacteristic silence during which attention had been focused for a change upon neither herself nor her famed twin daughters, Linda and Lupe, whose obsessive circling on the Ferris wheel in white dresses with matching sashes and bows played such a central role in establishing that non-color as a particular symbol of longing and of loss for the town. Like some kind of pestilence spread a vision of a world whose white surface seemed determined to rise nearer toward white stars each night and to extend farther above buried, suffocating spirits whose last muffled cries would be incapable of reaching through a thick white shroud to touch the ears of an albino God.
The empty chairs beneath Dona Lupita’s balcony devolved into blurred white versions of themselves then become quite unidentifiable; when the town had transformed into a place of frightening luminosity at dark they vanished beneath this alabaster surface altogether. Snow sparkled like stardust and cancelled out the illumination thrown by authentic stars; households huddled behind closed curtains from fear of becoming blinded by an exterior dazzle, and as their members endured the silent, sustained descent of white beyond the window they experienced the special horror of dreams come true.
The snowfall ceased at dawn. In the same arbitrary fashion with which it had formed out of the sky the white substance began to melt at once upon the ground. The temperature of today’s air felt identical to that of yesterday; only the passage of time had intervened. Streets immediately turned into rivers of mud that refused to dry for one week. Constantly washing clothes and hair and bodies during this period, people felt a nagging sense that they had become thoroughly soiled beneath the surface of their skin, and despaired of ever feeling truly clean again.
No one felt in the mood at this challenging time to heed a trio of blind men who claimed to have been privy to certain events which had supposedly transpired during the course of the long white night; only when streets reverted to typical dustiness could attention be paid to an insistence that at the stroke of twelve o’clock six sightless eyes had each one glimpsed the same white figure poised in the doorway of Dona Lupita’s store. It shone there for one moment from uncertainty or out of fear before dashing into flakes falling with such thickness that no slivers of darkness were available to relieve the element which swallowed whole the youngest daughter of Dona Lupita—who else could it have been?—with the very first steps her feet took from home. Simultaneously, these blind men stated, the late-model Pontiac belonging to Dona Lupita skidded down the main street toward the edge of town before itself disappearing into the uninterrupted expanse of white beyond. Behind the steering wheel sat Dona Lupita’s husband (Manuel? Miguel?), while in the back seat her three older daughters each rested a typewriter upon her lap. No shot-gun passenger added her dusky presence to the departing party swore its six witnesses upon a stack of Bibles none of which were printed in Braille.
. . .
“When the world was white,” it would later be remarked about that historic day and night of snow. Urged by long-cherished literary aspirations, Petra Delgado wrote up the interesting event in her very best prose style and sent the article to the capital city newspaper; but she would not be rewarded with publication or even by a polite response. There lingered some regret that nobody had thought to preserve a ball of snow inside their icebox to serve as an artifact of an episode that without the slightest doubt they knew would never occur again. That gifted artist and renowned entrepreneur, Senora Popsicle, kicked herself for not having had sufficient foresight to secure a supply of the special snow within her enormous old Westinghouse with the aim of featuring it as a frozen creation which would afford the tongues of her customers the opportunity to savor a sweet souvenir of Dona Lupita’s youngest daughter.
Yet the town that lay beneath the western slopes had little time for rueful moments at this time. It seemed to throw itself with more than previous vigor into violently passionate love affairs which would sometimes last for as long as one week but more often than not flared then died in the space of a single day and night. Within the first month after the snowfall there occurred six suicides due to unreciprocated adoration, seven murders motivated by jealous love, and three drownings of young girls driven by unmanageable ardor to strike out to sea in the hope of discovering pirate paramours waiting beyond the distant waves; this was in addition to such phenomena as the absence from school of children who preferred to study the nature of desire beyond classroom walls, the priority of love-making over housekeeping and above laboring in the fields, and the abuse of alcohol and narcotics by those who suffered from a lack of reciprocated love.
The town became filled day and night with moans of ecstasy, screams of erotic despair and complaints of unmet longing; and there occurred a ceaseless scurrying to and from trysts and rendezvous and between the briefest of encounters. Dona Lupita’s store stood silent in the midst of this bustle. The doors stayed locked, the rooms remained dark. An enterprising young Moreno woman, perhaps the eventual successor to Dona Lupita in the realm of retail, opened a small grocery in the next street and enjoyed an immediate prosperity.
Although Dona Lupita did not appear outside her sealed residence, she sat every evening upon its balcony—straight-backed and stiff-necked and searching constantly with one left hand for the pins that fixed her hair in place. Sometimes two blood-smeared fingers would hold a dried, faded orchid near her nose; otherwise she gazed inscrutably at townspeople who ran errands of love below without one glance toward this aloft essence which, no shimmering star, would have barely been visible to them anyway.
There tentatively circulated a story that for a while Dona Lupita managed to sustain herself by means of a dwindling stock of canned goods that remained upon her store’s shelves until she had consumed the last tin of salty anchovies then suffered a slow death from starvation; but the town’s impressive talent for mythmaking seemed largely a thing of the past, and scant speculation arose to shape the image of a mother driven by grief who clutches a pillow dressed in white garments of a disappeared white daughter during sleep or who hangs herself from a noose fashioned from the snow-white locks of this same lost object of love. Soon no one spoke of Dona Lupita or of her youngest daughter at all, never mind of her husband (whatever his name had been); and her three older girls became neither mentioned too.
As far as the subject of Dona Lupita and her youngest daughter was concerned, amnesia might have descended along with snow upon the town; but the melting of that white substance failed to expose long-hidden memories now bleached as clean as bones. Only occasionally did little girls look up from a battle of jacks waged in the plaza to exclaim: “She was pure white.” Only Senor Ramirez, who fancied himself as the area’s top real estate tycoon, would frown at the sight of its most impressive structure then shake his head at the waste. Strangely, neither Pepe Gonzalez nor any other homeless members of the community tried to break the locks of the abandoned building with an aim of squatting inside rooms that surely offered a more attractive potential for sleep than the one provided by the empty garbage-strewn lot that stank behind the Farmacia 5 de Mayo.
Upon the occasion of each confirmation and each marriage a flurry of appropriately white dresses induced a communal sense that a crucial participant was missing from the ritual; this emotion would invariably prompt an expedition down to the well located within the yard of Esmerelda Lopez’s tumbledown childhood home for no reason except that the cistern there had long been considered the recipient of every object of local significance to vanish without a trace. “Are you down there?” celebrants sporting party clothes shouted into the deep dark hole. “Can you hear us?” Asked why their calls were directed downward rather than up would have left these individuals at a loss to reply; nor could they have named the identity of spirit that they tried to summon.
A similarly vague sense of absence often surfaced just at the moment of falling into sleep or at the point of waking: this emotion did not seem necessarily inspired by longing for a missing girl, or for any pale entity at all; its source must instead have been wrought by suspicion that a mystery more profound than those might lurk among the thick jungle through which the path leading to the river wound, hover within the dim recesses of the west alcove contained by the crumbling church, or rustle amid the elephant grass and Nayarit thistles which concealed the graveyard’s slanting crosses and faded plastic wreaths. Or perhaps the answer to the unarticulated question of why love had chosen to leave loneliness behind lay in clear view, out in the open, as prosaic a sight as that of the tortilleria clanking and clamoring in broad daylight.
Previously the town had emerged from every disastrous, rapturous affair with white with all of its foolish sentimentality and unrealistic expectations somewhat damaged but more or less intact; now the heart of the place appeared to have broken into several cold, tough pieces, and there were no signs that a softening or mending of the vivisected organ would ever occur however romantic a blue moon or sweet the April air. In all present affairs of love could be discerned a quality of icy calculation and of selfish cruelty, and of the variety of lust that goes unrelieved by pleasure or affection or humor; and the qualities possessed by each ingredient of this psychological potpourri combined to create an unsatisfying stew that bore an unmistakable resemblance to perversion. One can only point to the fact that hand in hand with this unfortunate feeling in the air came a loss of what had once been a deeply embedded curiosity about the town’s immediate surroundings and about the world that lay distant from it too. One example: when the driver of the battered blue bus realized that Dona Lupita’s store had apparently closed for good he would no longer bother to slow down in order to toss a sack of mail into the dust before its door three times per week; yet mothers did not toss and turn at night from a longing to know what sort of fantastic news might be contained in unreceived letters from sons in California. And when the town found itself without electricity one evening, presumably because Dona Lupita had failed to make alternate arrangements for payment upon her retirement (let’s call it that) there ensued no wailing against resultant darkness, no pleas for returned light, no fervent prayers for an early arrival of dawn; instead, lard candles formerly disparaged for being unsatisfactory weapons in the war against night became wildly popular, and their glow grew to be appreciated as an aphrodisiac as effective as the entrails of armadillos.
The most naïve soul to wander these wanton streets and to hear their carnal cries would have been left no choice but to accept that romance had packed its bags and left with a one-way ticket on the early morning bus to the capital city; by dawn the battered vehicle has crossed the western slopes, passed through dripping jungle, and descended upon the interior plain from which travelers can proceed toward the north or south or east in search of any place where love might yet thrive. In the abandoned town no one noticed when dust stirred by heavy, heartless feet rose from the street and came to cover the glass surrounding Dona Lupita’s balcony. Why did not a single set of eyes, blind or not, feel compelled to witness the sight of the long, thin and unadorned fingers of a left hand smear blood upon the inside of this formerly transparent surface in a fruitless attempt to create a small window through which to see? Why did even Esmerelda Lopez, the town’s most steadfast student of love, not lift her ancient head to recognize ( as I also failed to do) that what had once been crystalline now appeared as opaque as a thick wall, as dull as the color of Dona Lupita’s skin?
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